The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summer in Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, will be the site for two mega-events over the next year. Next February, the first LEED Platinum NFL stadium will play host to Super Bowl LIII. But well before that — June 26-27 to be exact — Green Sports Alliance Summit VIII takes center stage. Its theme is PLAY GREENER™: Get In The Game. GSB talked with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner to find out about the new initiatives the Alliance has planned for attendees. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, before we got on the phone to talk Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta, I had two main thoughts going through my head: 1. How can you and the rest of the Alliance braintrust freshen the Summit going into its eighth iteration, and 2. Having it at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a great freshener, indeed!

Justin Zeulner: Keeping things fresh — that’s a great question and it’s something we’re very much focused on, especially coming into this Summit. In fact, a couple of years ago, the leadership took a collective deep breath to figure out, strategically, what would be best, not only for our Summits but for the sports greening movement as a whole. We undertook this strategic refresh at a time of strong growth for us. Two or three years ago, we had 300+ members; now we’re nearing 600. When an organization like ours starts to scale like we have, new challenges arise. What can you provide that’s new, innovative and meaningful? How can we best continue to serve and lead our members, helping them grow their sustainability initiatives when there are many more of them.

GSB: A good problem to have…

JZ: We agree…

GSB: So how is the Alliance going about upping its game service-, growth- and leadership-wise?

JZ: Serve — We keep in close touch with our membership, finding out where they want to go and what guidance they need when it comes to environmental issues. We help by convening the Summit, providing resources and programs, largely around energy, water, transportation, food, and waste. Adding the Corporate Members Network was wonderful because that helped add a great many greener products and services to help our teams and venues reach their goals. Grow — the more the Alliance grows, the more people we get involved in the movement and the greater the impact we have as it relates to our mission — “to build healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.” Lead—means trying new things, taking some risks…

 

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Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Justin, that’s a great segue to this year’s Summit in Atlanta. What new things will you try? What risks will you take?

JZ: The title of our Summit is “PLAY GREENER ™: Get In The Game.” The “Get in the Game” piece is illustrative of the changes we’ve made for this year and takes into account comments we received from attendees last year in Sacramento.

GSB: What does that mean exactly?

JZ: One big change is that our sessions will be much more interactive than in past years — more workshops, than panel discussions. We want there to be a robust dialogue that’s as attendee-driven as possible. And we want attendees to leave with a crystal clear road map as to how to implement the greening programs they learn about in Atlanta.

GSB: What kind of programs are you talking about?

JZ: We’re adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), helping our teams and venues do their part in terms of carbon mitigation to put humanity on a path to a less than 2°C temperature rise, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Food is one key area — we are helping venues with menu design, from more veggie options, to locally sourced food, and more. And venues are responding. Of course they offer burgers —but sometimes those burgers are veggie. In fact, Impossible Burgers

GSB: …The veggie burgers that taste and feel beef-like? They’re GREAT!

JZ: Impossible Burger will be at the Summit! Vegetarian and vegan foods are something athletes are getting more into, so we’ll be talking about that. But we’re getting even deeper with our “Business of Food” workshop. Larry Kopald of Carbon Underground will lead a discussion about regenerative farming, how it can help tackle our carbon problems, and how the sports industry can help support it. A local farmer will share his inspirational story of transforming his family farm from the traditional approach to regenerative farming and what scaling that can mean for sports and the world more broadly. Chefs will also take part, discussing how stadia and arenas can gradually add “plant forward” proteins to their menus.

 

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Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the upcoming 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

GSB: This sounds like a fantastic workshop. And now I’m hungry!

JZ: Well save that appetite for the Tuesday night of the Summit. That’s when we will have our awards celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top chefs will be featured at our  “Taste of Atlanta”” event.

GSB: Sounds like it will be a must-attend event. Beyond food, what else will attendees see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

JZ: Engagement will be a watchword at this year’s Summit, from athletes, to fans, to youth. Youth will be a particular focus with Diana Dehm leading another Student Summit.

GSB: I imagine attendees from teams and leagues will be very interested in how to engage youth with green sports. My bet is that nothing makes sports executives lose sleep these days more than the issue of to how to ensure millennials, Gen Zers, and the generation after follow sports with something close to the passion of their forebears. I’m not saying a team’s, a sport’s greenness is the determining factor but it can be a factor. Who will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit?

JZ: Arthur M. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, and the driving force behind the building of the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be giving the keynote. His talk will center on how environmental leadership impacts community, social justice and health and wellness. Mr. Blank believes the environmental and the social are linked and it is his mission and that of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to positively impact both. Speaking of the social aspects of sustainability, another speaker of note is Samantha “Sam” Gordon. Honored by the NFL with their inaugural Game Changer award, Sam is a young woman from Utah who plays football with the boys and became the one of the best players on the team. That wasn’t enough for Sam — she started a league in her area for female tackle football players. Now Sam is not doing all this just for women to play football. She is doing this work to activate interest among girls in physical activity, exercise, and wellness and ensure underserved populations have a voice.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 

GSA Sam Gordon-headshot

Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Photo credit: Samantha Gordon)

 

GSB: For a GenZ girl like Sam, this is how social movements start!

JZ: Exactly. Also ex-major league baseball player and manager Dusty Baker and former NFLer Will Allen, both advocates for renewable energy, will talk about their experiences in the solar field. And we are honored to have David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, as a speaker.

GSB: Well, I have to say, before we spoke, I was a bit skeptical about this Summit differing enough from its predecessors, that its focus would be too Green-Sports 1.0 (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) and not enough Green-Sports 2.0 (fan, athlete engagement) for my taste. But, from the speakers, to the topics, to the workshop style, to audience engagement, I see the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an event that will, while still touching on worthwhile Green-Sports 1.0 issues, push the GreenSports clearly into its 2.0 phase. I am looking forward to it.

JZ: See you in Atlanta!

 

Click here for information on how to attend the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta June 26-27.
GreenSportsBlog is a media sponsor of the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit.

 


 

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San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Partner on Biggest Solar Installation in MLB at Petco Park

On-site solar at sports stadia and arenas has become a “thing” over the past decade across all sports. Starting with the Colorado Rockies and Coors Field in 2007, Major League Baseball has seen its share solar-topped roofs and solar canopied parking lots pop up. Most of the MLB installations have been on the smallish side. That changes with the late March opening of the largest solar installation in the big leagues at Petco Park, a partnership between the San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Power.

 

The San Diego Padres are poised to flip the switch this month on the largest solar installation in Major League Baseball at Petco Park. In fact, the 336,500 kW system will generate more electricity than all of the solar systems in MLB combined. It is thus fitting that the groundbreaking Petco Park solar system is being built and installed by Sullivan Solar Power, one of the most innovative and inspiring solar companies in Southern California if not the entire country.

The inspiring part of the Sullivan Solar Power story comes from the company’s namesake and founder, Daniel Sullivan.

A lifelong San Diegan, Sullivan was a 27 year-old electrician in 2004. Concerned about what he saw as a war-for-oil in Iraq, especially with the perspective that comes with being a new dad, and sensing an opportunity with a clean, domestic form of energy, Sullivan went to his boss and suggested the company get involved with solar. The boss said no at first and then, perhaps tired of his persistent employee’s repeated requests, finally relented — to a point — by saying, “if you want to build it yourself, go ahead. But we aren’t changing our focus to doing solar.”

Sullivan said something to the effect of “to heck with that” and founded his own company, Sullivan Solar Power.

 

 

 

Daniel Sullivan

Daniel Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Solar Power (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Problem was, he had only $2,500 in the bank, a pickup truck and some tools.

So Sullivan started by living and working out of the garage of one of his first customers. Fast-forward a couple of years and things had improved somewhat: Sullivan Solar Power had four employees had leased office space. And Sullivan was no longer living at the garage. Instead, he was living at the office — hiding that fact from his colleagues — and showering at the gym.

But, the company’s mission — to fundamentally change the way we make electricity — along with its commitment to quality work, its educate-the-customer-about-solar ethos, its robust lineup of community service engagements, and its use of American-made panels began to resonate in Greater San Diego. So, too did Sullivan’s money back guarantee to customers. According to Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s director of community development, “When Daniel started this company 14 years ago, there were less than 100 solar power systems on our local grid and it was much more expensive to go solar. Daniel, an electrician by trade, was so confident that his systems would pay off for customers; he offered to pay them if the panels didn’t produce as promised. The result? About 50 percent of our customers come from referrals.”

 

Tara Kelly Sullivan Solar Power

Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s Director of Community Development (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Those referrals have helped Sullivan Solar Power grow to over 100 employees in offices that serve San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. It is on several fastest-growing companies lists, from the global (Inc. Magazine 5000) to the local (San Diego Business Journal 100). They were the fourth company in the U.S. to earn accreditation from the prestigious North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

Sullivan Solar Power’s business, in terms of installed capacity, is about a 25-75 split between residential and commercial customers, depending on the year. Local universities, from San Diego State — Tara Kelly’s alma mater — to the University of San Diego to UC San Diego to UC Irvine are among the company’s largest customers. Petco Park is the company’s first stadium project.

“The Padres put out a RFP for the project and we responded,” Kelly recalled. “It was a lengthy process but ended up winning the bid last summer. Work began on the installation, which sits atop Petco Park’s overhanging awning, in December.”

 

Petco Park Solar Photo 3

A crane lowers equipment for Sullivan Solar Power’s installation of its solar system atop Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

The solar power system, which will have nearly three times as much capacity as AT&T Park in San Francisco’s 120 kW — good enough for second biggest in MLB —  is just about complete. It will utilize high-efficiency, 470-watt Sunpower solar modules. The Padres are slated to avoid over $4 million in San Diego Gas & Electric costs over the next 25 years from this solar project. The plan is to turn it on in time for solar-generated electrons to flow at the Padres’ home opener March 29th vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

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The Sullivan Solar Power team installs part of what will become the largest solar array in Major League Baseball at Petco Park (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Petco Park Solar Photo 6

The Sullivan Solar Power installation team takes a break during the installation of its solar system at Petco Park earlier this year (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)…

 

Rock Center

…evoking the iconic photo of the Rockefeller Center construction crew taking a lunch break above the New York City skyline in 1932 (Photo credit: Bettman Collection/Corbis)

 

Sullivan Solar Power is partnering with the team to publicize the solar system and the value of renewable energy to Padres fans. “We have signage at Petco Park and will be showing photos or videos of the solar project to let fans know they’re in a solar-powered stadium,” said Kelly. “And, this year we will collaborate with the Padres for the second annual Solar Day at Petco Park, offering educational seminars on how solar can make a positive difference for fans at their residences as well.”

Educating baseball fans on the benefits of solar is just another evocation of Daniel Sullivan’s mission to fundamentally change the way make electricity. It goes back to his original inspirations — a safe, clean environment for his son, one that is free from wars-for-oil as well as from subsidies that favor fossil fuel development.

On this last point, Petco Park is not the only high profile venue at which Sullivan will educate the public. In 2016 and 2017, he bought full page ads in the San Diego Union-TribuneSullivan used that space to write long-form articles about the costs, locally and more broadly, of fossil fuel subsidies and oil wars. Click here and here to read two of them.

Sullivan’s is an important voice in support of the environmental, climate change-fighting and economic (i.e. green jobs) benefits of solar power. Here’s hoping the Petco Park installation is the first of many sports venues at which Sullivan Solar Power can share its vitally important mission with fans.

 


 

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